A page from the past

Greater Kashmir

Kashmir tragedy owes its origin to the Partition of the Indian sub-continent. Today Kashmir signifies confusion and frustration, and the predicament of imagining its fate haunts everyone. The agony has engulfed people of every age, particularly the young. With this commotion in our imagination, politics and society, people not only grow irrational but blame themselves. This has led us to a series of eclectic beliefs, cynicism and irrationalism which not only shapes our thinking at the moment but crucially limits our free imagination of our past, present and future.  It, however, begs an important question:  is this sort of thinking typical of Kashmiris? Or, are there concrete political and economic events in history that account for it? At what point in history did we develop these attributes? I propose, history, rather than wishful, fatalist and religious explanations, can help us understand the ‘present crises’ in our think

A cursory historical look at the history of Kashmir, analogically, caricatures it a prison and its inhabitants its prisoners. The Valley of Kashmir, given its strategic locale, has been subject to a series of frequent external invasions. These powers had maintained their status quo through ‘blood and iron’ policy. We see that the Mughals overthrow Chek dynasty and ruled over Kashmir from Delhi from 1586 to 1754 CE. As the balance of power shifted towards Afghans in the Indian-subcontinent, it had a direct impact on the Kashmir Valley as Kashmir became the colony of the Afghans from 1754-1819 CE. As the Afghan became weak their rule was replaced by the raging Sikhs who were successful in ruling over Kashmir from Lahore (present Pakistan) from 1819 to 46 CE. The arrival of British in North India forced the Sikhs to give in to new power and Kashmir was grabbed by the British, who further sold it to the Dogras under the Treaty of Amritsar for a mere sum of 75,00000 rupees. Weather a colony of Delhi, Kabul or Lahore, Kashmir was subjected to oppression, exploitation and plunder and the chronicles label these foreign rules as dark. Some popular Kashmiri slogans like “sonus ropus karun dagul, Mughal logum balay”()was raised against Mughals who drained the wealth of Kashmir and“bainami Amritsar tood do, kashmir ko chood do” () was raised against the Dogra rulers who by the Treaty of Amritsar had chained the people of Valley like slaves. These voices of resistance were dealt with stern and violent means. The history of Kashmir is, in fact, replete with oppressive policies of various rulers who ruled over it from ancient times. Even a much celebrated king of Kashmir, Lalitaditya, who ruled Kashmir in 8th century, said that cultivators must not be left with more than year’s requirement; they should be repressed so that their style of living should not rise above subsistence otherwise they will encroach on their neighbor’s.

This method of silencing dissent was followed by the successive rulers thereafter. The fact is that if a nation undergoes such a treatment for generations, it has the potential to change the nature, mindset, habit, personality and even the culture of the whole masses. Thomas Arnold talking about the long lasting oppression and its impact on the commons writes; constant poverty and insult long endured as the natural portion of a degraded caste bear upon the sufferers something yet worse than pain which dull their understanding and poison their morals. The combined ill-treatment and ignorance are the parents of universal suspicion. Constant oppression gave birth to the habitual cowardice and liars, who broke out into merciless cruelty when occasion offers. Their domestic circle itself, the last sanctuary of human virtue, becomes at length corrupted and the parents always carry an anxiety for their children that they may, by fraud or by violence, prey in their turn upon that society which they have found their bitterest enemy.

Arnold’s narrative suggests that such attributes as suspiciousness, lying, cowardice, ignorance and dishonesty are the product of the slavery and the oppression witnessed by a community for generations. But how did the people resist the persistent oppression across generations? A subaltern look at the history suggests that lying, theft, making secret complaints, leaving lands fallow and finally migrating to other places constituted unpopular modes of resistance by the subalterns, while avoiding popular revolts. For instance, the basic motive of the migrations or leaving lands fallow was to hit the economic structure of the state because agriculture was always being the lifeline of Kashmir.  Many a time, inviting another foreign ruler was strategically thought to be an antidote to the oppression of the existing rulers. Perhaps, the new ruler was supposed to rule benevolently. For instance, people of high status submitted a memorandum to the Mughal Emperor Akbar, seeking his intervention in Kashmir and Akbar was soon to invade Kashmir in 1586. Notwithstanding several attempts to conquer, Ranjit Singh could do it only in the wake of an invitation from elites. Quite evidently, elites were the beneficiaries of the new rule each time, at the expanse of common masses. It continued till Dogras took over the control of the Valley, unleashing tough laws, severe punishments, torturing, exploitation and pervasive injustice. All the people suffered alike except handful of minority. This minority represented that section of the society who were either ‘inviters’ or symbols of pen and religion. Under Dogra rule, Kashmir had witnessed a mixed bureaucracy- Hindus and Muslims. Albeit the former were in majority but the latter section was represented only by few Sayyid and Pir families. These high castes justified their prominence by claiming direct ancestry from the Prophet.  The bureaucracy was paid by the State in the form of Jagirs that consisted large land holdings and sometimes many villages. These land holders extracted revenue, as salaries, from these villages and in return acted as representatives of the State in their respective jagirs. The common men had not to deal with the ruler[MX1]  directly but they remained under the clutches of these representatives who were known through different nomenclatures like Jagirdars, chakdars, waddars (bankers), zaildars, patwars, tehsildars. It was actually that focal point where from exploitation and harassment pecked out its head because they taxed people very high and charged extra cesses that it was very difficult to work under these privileged ring of lords. The grievance of the people against this class remained unheeded and would often translate into the grievance against the State. Though many a time concessions came from the State but this intermediate class had never allowed it to reach to the needy. This had developed a sort of frustration in the society where people had to spend most dear part of their economy either on their lords as perquisite or on repaying debts (loans). The usury had become a trap in the valley, particularly in villages. The common proverb of the day was marit shay reth bakaya (six months pending even after death). In 1930’s a situation had arisen in Kashmir when 80 per cent of the people were in debt and had lost their all dear land by selling it to the bankers and other lords.

As economic exploitation reached to its peak, people began to think in terms of change. It was actually the common people who got assembled against the injustice met at the hands of landlord and official class. Their actual demand was that the crop and the source of crop should belong to them, which were purely economic in nature. The only need was the presence of a guardian in the form of leader, who ought to be daring enough to raise the voice against these mal-practices. And it is true that the group of people who raised slogans in their favour and promised grass-root change got full support. The people who started struggle against special privilege to a particular class became visible as a fight against the State that was actually patronizing them. The movement worked well as per the expectations but turned futile again when the leaders sought help from a foreign power and it is true that the leaders of the people remained in power but powerless. Again there was political shift and the problems under the new political umbrella remained old as used to be. The victimized people were seeking change in the base and the walls of their habitation and mere change of the roof proved a nightmare to the majority in the long run.  If one believes that all history is contemporary history or history repeats itself then a nation should look at its history and try hard to avoid mistaken committed in the past.

(Tawseef Mushtaq is PhD Research Scholar at the Department of History, University of Kashmir)